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Interpol: 200 arrested in biggest crackdown on elephant slaughter


Ivory ornaments and animal skins are displayed as part of INTERPOL's crackdown on illegal wildlife trafficking.

More than 200 people were arrested and two tons of ivory seized — along with guns, lion pelts, rhino horns and live birds — in the largest operation against wildlife smugglers to date, Interpol announced Tuesday. As sizable as the numbers are, though, the real test will be whether Africa finally sees a drop in the record slaughter of elephants and rhinos.

The three-month operation ranged across 17 African countries as well as China, where officials cracked down on websites and stores selling ornaments made from ivory, the trade for which is banned globally.

"The intelligence gathered during Operation Worthy will enable us to identify the links between the poachers and the global networks driving and facilitating the crime," David Higgins, head of Interpol's environmental crime program, said in a statement.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare helped Interpol by training officers in African countries, and said it also provided leads that allowed China to uncover 700 cases of illegal wildlife trade. 

Just days after Rock Center aired Harry Smith's report, "The Last Stand," on the growing epidemic of illegal rhino poaching in South Africa, three of the rhinos featured in the report were attacked by poachers. Rock Center's Harry Smith reports.

China "busted 13 gangs, punished 1,031 illegal traders, seized over 130,000 wild animals and their animal products," IFAW said in a statement, adding that 7,155 shops and 628 websites selling banned animals were shut down.

Still, the two tons of ivory seized is just a fraction of what's smuggled each year.

Last year, a record 23 tons of ivory were confiscated -- which means many more got smuggled out of Africa. Those 23 tons probably represent some 2,500 elephants, the international monitoring group TRAFFIC said in a statement.

Report: Tens of thousands of elephants likely killed last year

And this year seizures include 359 tusks, weighing 1.6 tons, found in containers shipped out of Kenya.

In Cameroon, several hundred elephants were slaughtered last January -- inside a national park.

Africa's elephant population is estimated around 450,000 -- compared to between 5 million and 10 million in the 1930s.

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